IVF: A Blessing or a Problem?
Rev. Robert Fleischmann, National Director, Christian Life Resources
On July 25, 1978, the world learned of the birth of the first baby using a process called in vitro fertilization (IVF), or “outside the womb” fertilization. Quickly dubbed by the press as the world’s first “test-tube baby,” Louise Brown – who was born in Lancashire, England, to great fanfare – brought new hope to couples around the world who wrestled with infertility.
In the 45 years that have passed, over eight million children have been born through the IVF process. As of 2019, this procedure was performed over 2.5 million times each year, resulting in about 500,000 annual births.
Now, do the math: 500,000 ÷ 2,500,000 = 20%
Some people have asked if it is a sin to use IVF. I prefer to look at it from a different perspective. Our relationship with God is that we were adopted into his family through the sacrificial blood of his own Son, Jesus Christ. Every sin, whether we realize it to be a sin or not, was paid for on the cross when Jesus died. We call that salvation.
This salvation that comes through Jesus is a gift – it is not earned. We can not earn salvation by doing the right things and living the right way. That means we will not earn salvation by performing correctly regarding IVF. Rather, Jesus did it all for us. Our salvation is the free, unearned gift from God. We call that “grace.”
My perspective regarding IVF reflects both how I feel about this grace from God, and the role I feel God should play in my life.
According to God’s Word, life already exists at conception (Psalm 51:5). A study of that passage in the original Hebrew language leaves no doubt about when life begins in the reproductive cycle. The word used is tied to the act of intercourse. For a deeper study visit: tinyurl.com/25nrpedv and tinyurl.com/2854a3mm. Life begins at conception.
Conception is that point when a sperm fertilizes an egg. It is also called “fertilization.” Biologically speaking, fertilization joins two distinct and separate DNAs into a single, new DNA. Everything that the person is and will be is present when the DNA of the sperm and egg unite. Nothing changes from that point forward other than maturation (when life begins to age) and geography (when fertilization occurs in the fallopian tube, settles in the uterus, is delivered into the arms of the doctor, and so forth).
Every field of expertise uses its own terminology. It is usually a set of words that further refines and explains a process. In fertility and procreation, specialists have their terms. They talk about conception, fertilization, a blastocyst, an embryo, and a fetus. All of these are biological markers or stages of development along the path of maturing in the womb.
As illustrated earlier, the Bible teaches that life begins at conception. For years the moment of conception meant a pregnancy had begun. Pregnancy is the result of the hormonal effects that take place in a woman’s body when fertilization occurs. The joining of the two distinct DNAs releases an avalanche of chemical signals in a woman’s body indicating that where there was once one life, there are now two lives. The woman’s body stops the regular menstrual cycles. The uterine lining is triggered to begin building up to receive the developing life to travel down the fallopian tube. The breasts begin preparing for the child’s feeding in nine months.
One of the changes that occurred with IVF and the entire field of artificial reproductive technology (ART) was a redefinition of pregnancy. Today, most OB/GYNs explain that pregnancy begins when the developing unborn child, in the embryonic stage, implants in the uterine lining. If implantation is successful, pregnancy takes place. If it does not successfully implant, there is no pregnancy. From our perspective, this does not change the status of whether the embryo was a life. It simply means that it either continues to develop embedded in the uterine lining, or it does not.
Now, 45 years later and over eight million children later, it is valid to ask, “Is IVF a blessing or a problem?”
The answer is: It depends on which side of the IVF process you are on.
God’s Word speaks clearly that we are accountable for sin at conception (Psalm 51:5). When David, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote those words, he scribed them as a person; a real human being; and someone in need of deliverance from sin. His life, and all human life, begins at conception.
Biology supports this reality. From the moment of fertilization, everything changes. A new life, with its own unique DNA structure, begins a maturation process that continues until death.
Terminology which refines and parcels the process helps us diagnostically track life’s development at its earliest stages. We know it is life at conception, and we know it is life traveling down the mother’s fallopian tube. We also know it is life as it tries to embed in the endometrium lining (uterine wall). This embedding in the uterine lining is called pregnancy.
As pointed out earlier, 20% of IVF procedures provide a live birth. That means 80% of the time it does not result in a live birth meaning, 80% of the time the procedure ends in death. Eighty percent of newly-created lives do not survive until live birth.
When I have shared these numbers in presentations I often receive comments pointing out the countless spontaneous miscarriages that take place. Some clarity is needed here.
There was a time when no research was done on these issues, and medical literature would claim that up to 65% of all pregnancies ended in miscarriage, most often with the mother not even knowing she was pregnant. Obviously, that figure does not reflect any reasoned study. To suggest the range could be between 0-65% means the information was purely a guess.
To my knowledge, we are still waiting for a disciplined study to be done on this matter. What has changed, however, are the outlandish claims made about the number of spontaneous miscarriages that take place. Today, medical literature is much more restrained in its estimations. According to the website of the U.S. government’s National Library of Medicine:
It is estimated that as many as 26% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage and up to 10% of clinically recognized pregnancies.
Tying the Pieces Together
We rejoice in the birth of every child. Without a doubt, a child born as the result of an IVF procedure is a blessing. Yet, that blessing is overshadowed by the number of children that had to die to bring about a live birth.
Sometimes the large numbers of successful births using IVF cloud the reality that those successes come at a great cost.
Someone once said, “It is easier to believe a lie that you have heard a thousand times, than the truth which you have only heard once.” The lie that is promoted with IVF is essentially that the ends justify the means. Because life in its embryonic stage is unable to interact, it is deemed dispensable. That is flawed and fatal logic.
Science, as does Scripture, establishes that life begins at conception. Whether that conception occurs naturally within the fallopian tube of a woman’s body or artificially in a Petri dish in a medical laboratory, it is still life. Leaders in the IVF industry may choose to ignore that reality and may choose to simply select a stage in life (pregnancy) in which to pin their successes – that is their choice. Again, it does not change the reality.
The problem is that IVF is not a perfect science. Christians who bask in the knowledge of the sacrifice made for them by Christ should ask whether risking the lives of others to hold a life in their arms is worth it. And if, in hindsight, it is discovered that a family might have gone too far and that lives may have been lost, then consider standing again before the cross. It is there that forgiveness can be found.
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